Heat Illness in Young Athletes: Detection and Prevention
From recreational activities to free-play to team sports to camps, outdoor activities during the
summer have one thing in common--the heat...
Heat related illness is responsible for thousands of summer emergency room visits. Heat injury
ranges from mild heat cramps to heat stroke and death. In fact, heat stroke is the third most
common cause of exercise-related death in high school athletes in the United States. However,
heat-related illness is preventable. Armed with basic knowledge about thermoregulation and
hydration, and how to recognize the early signs of heat injury, parents can reduce the risk of their
children suffering heat-related illness.
Differences in Thermoregulation between Children and Adults
-Kids generate more heat during exercise than adults.
-Kids have less blood volume per pound of body weight. Therefore, they have limited ability to
shunt blood to the skin for sweating and evaporative cooling, the most efficient way the body cools
itself during exercise. This decreased blood or fluid volume also puts kids at increased risk for
-Kids initiate sweating later during exercise than adults.
-Kids have a larger surface area to mass ratio and are closer to the ground than adults. Therefore,
they more readily absorb radiant heat from the ground and pavement, raising their body
-Kids take longer to acclimate to higher temperatures and humidity than adults. Children who are
new to the South or who are out of shape should exercise for shorter, less intense sessions 3-4
times per week for 2 weeks to allow their bodies and thermoregulatory response to acclimate.
Hydration Tips for Young Athletes
-Never rely on thirst. Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration status. When a young athlete begins to
feel thirsty, he or she may already be 1%-2% dehydrated.
-Prehydrate. 30 minutes before activity, drink till you are no longer thirsty plus another 8 ounces.
For kids weighing less than 90 pounds, drink 5 ounces every 20 minutes of activity. For kids
weighing more than 90 pounds, drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes.
-Water is best if the activity lasts one hour or less. For activities lasting more than an hour, you
should drink a fluid with carbohydrate (sugar) and electrolytes. Drinks such as Gatorade and
Powerade were designed specifically for re-hydration during exercise and contain the right amount
of carbohydrates, about 6%-8%. Fluids such as fruit juice and soda contain a great deal of sugar
and can cause cramping. Kids younger than 10 years old may dilute a sports drink 1:1 water for a
better taste. Avoid carbonated and caffeinated beverages because the carbonation can make you
feel bloated and caffeine can speed up metabolism, generating more heat.
-Drink it, don't pour it. Pouring cold water on your head or face may feel great, but is does not
improve your hydration status.